By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A milestone race carried a little more meaning for Dylan Duval as the Stewart-Haas eSports driver scored a top-10 finish.
The driver of the virtual No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Fan Club Ford Mustang made his 100th eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series start at Kansas Speedway. In his prior 99 starts, Duval scored one win, at Indianapolis Speedway in 2016. Since then the Canadian has been a staple in the top level of eNASCAR competition.
“To think I’ve already run 100 of these things is actually pretty mind-blowing to me,” admitted Duval. “There was a time where I didn’t think I would ever get to race full-time in this series. From 2012-2014 I struggled to find my footing at the top levels of eNASCAR. My consistency was never there, I was able to make some starts as a Pro licensed driver in my early years but never found my way into being a “World Championship” driver to race full-time.
“After a lot of hard work, I figured it out, in 2015 I finished 3rd in the Pro Series which qualified me into the 2016 eNCCiS. That was an incredible season for me. In my first full season I won a race at Indianapolis, scored 3 top-5s and finished 6th 4 different times. That led to a career high 5th in the final standings. Therefor solidifying my place in the series and proved to myself and others I belonged. Since then, I’ve raced in every season of the series, with a short absence from the series in the latter part of 2018.”
As part of his 100th start, Stewart-Haas and iRacing let Duval design his own paint scheme. While the scheme was originally intended to commemorate his eNASCAR career milestone, it took on an additional role. In the lead up to the race at the virtual 1.5-mile speedway, Duval’s grandmother passed away. With Stewart-Haas and iRacing’s approval, he put her name on the special paint scheme that he designed as a way to honor her.
“It means the world to me; it was such an awesome tribute to end up in the top-10 with her name on the car,” Duval stated. “She always supported my sim-racing, and it was such a nice way to be able to honor her. I’m so thankfully that iRacing and Stewart-Haas allowed me to make the changes to the scheme last minute. Regardless of if we ended up first or last, it was great having her on the car. Just a nice added bonus that we had a great result.”
Duval finished the race in ninth. However, his journey to that top-10 was a wild one. Duval was collected in the first incident of the race. His Stewart-Haas teammate Graham Bowlin, and fellow virtual Ford Performance driver John Gorlinsky slid up the track ahead of him. Gorlinsky clipped Duval’s nose before hitting the wall and then collecting Bob Bryant. Luckily, the virtual No. 41 Ford Mustang had minimal damage.
“I could see them (Bowlin and Gorlinsky) sliding up into me. Thankfully I got on the brakes before I got completely destroyed. Ended up getting some damage from it though, which probably hurt our chances at getting up into the top-5 at the end. That came down to heads up driving and being aware that the two drivers underneath of me have a history.”
The incident between Bowlin, Bryant, and Gorlinsky was not the only one that Duval had to navigate through. On the restart, Mitchell deJong and Bobby Zalenski crashed in front of the field. The pile-up consumed 17 of the 40 eNASCAR drivers on track. Duval noticed the contact between deJong and Zalenski early and checked up. He was lucky as his spotter had an emergency and stepped away on the restart. Duval ultimately drifted through the wreck on the apron.
“That massive pileup was really crazy, it was a miracle I made it through to be honest,” explained Duval. “Some backstory to that, my spotter Ed Burch had an emergency come up and had to temporarily leave his computer. That happened right as we were coming to that restart where they all crashed. I was completely spotter-less through that accident. I could see Mitchell get turned pretty early, so I was able to get checked up enough for it.
“When diving to the apron though it got sideways on me, and at that point I was just hanging on. It was a wild ride, I’m just happy I made it through which led to us having a great result.”
After ‘the big one,’ Duval was one of about 20 cars left on track without major damage. Although he had a top-five speed, the little damage that the No. 41 had from the first incident hampered him. 26-year-old slipped from sixth to the back of the top-10 in the final laps. When the checkered flag waved, Duval crossed the line in ninth.
Next up for Duval and the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series is a historic first visit to the virtual Circuit of the Americas on May 18.